Instituto Carcel Olivares

I think my school looks like a gigantic jail. Ok, so the school only has 1000 kids, and it’s not scary or unsafe and there aren’t any gangs, but it seriously looks like a penitentiary, Martin and I decided during the longest bus ride home ever. The first things you see is a low wall full of graffiti, followed by a seven-foot wrought iron gate. Since Andalucía is so hot and dry, there’s hardly any vegetation inside the gates. You have to be buzzed in after school hours to both the school grounds AND the school door. No one has keys but the grounds keepers and the lady who works in the cantina. Nieves, my boss, assures me that this is for security so no one breaks into the school (to what, steal the 12 computers that are inside?) or vandalizes the property.

IES Heliche draws in students from three different towns, like Olivares and Albaida, and some other one I can’t pronounce. There are 1000 kids, aged 12-16, then some in the bachillerato program up to 18. Eighty teachers, then Martin and myself. They’re all quite nice, including the administration class. Martin and I were done after out 11:55 department meeting, but we stayed another two hours introducing ourselves to everyone, from the art teacher to the man who writes our checks, Paco. The English department is wonderful: Charo and Asun speak brilliant English with British accents, Nieves is so sweet, Sylvia is very beautiful, Angela is funky, Miguel is fascinated with the United States, Valle is nice enough to offer me rides, Rocio is quiet but always smiling. Martin and I round out the bunch.

Today, like yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect. I had to get up super early to be at work by 830 since there was no direct bus. I didn’t bother to look at the times until about 20 minutes before the bus came, so I ran part of the way to get there on time. Like all things in Spain, the bus was late. And because I didn’t know where to get off since I took the wrong bus, I was nervous about missing the stop since it was still dark out. Luckily, I quickly realized that all of my fellow passengers were students and Rocio. Success. I was able to make it in time to my first class with Angela, a second year group.

Olivares is a very traditional Andalusian town, and many parents don’t encourage their children in any subjects, much less English. I could tell this right away in the class because the students all had low marks on their diagnostic test, had to be told multiple times to sit down or be quiet or write down notes, and hardly spoke my language at all. They were so confused how I could live in Spain and not speak theirs (I was told not to tell them I spoke Spanish so they could practice more). Even though they are in the second year, we just reviewed possessive pronouns and how to form questions. The most confusing part to them was not having a question mark at the beginning of a sentence to mark it as a question. Or why the tu and vosotros form is the same. Either way, I wasn’t nervous (the students thought I looked bored, but I was really exhausted), and I’m looking forward to planning lessons and teaching. The difficult part is that some classes I will only be in every other week, or sometimes even every third week. This will inevitably make it difficult in some ways to be consistent, even within levels.

I had some “planning” time in which I had some coffee, paced around the box that serves as the English department office, leafed through some books and kind of just stared at the wall until Nieves and Martin joined me so we could talk more about the curriculum. After the recreo, we had a department meeting. It was actually hilarious how they would start talking in English, then switch to Spanish and the Charo, the department head, would make a random comment in English. But it was here that I learned how dire the education system is in Spain. These poor people deal with bureaucracy, students who aren’t motivated by parents, many whom fail year after year, and low pay. They’re expected to implement all kinds of new programs, but don’t have the money to make it happen or the time to plan it. It’s very frustrating to them, and I’m now happy to have the education that I have. Tomorrow we do get some reprieve and we have to go to a mandatory meeting right in Cartuja, about a 20 minute walk for me. Then it’s on to Huelva to see the girls for their housewarming party!!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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